Out Of Syllabus

Let’s not even talk about reams and reams of film roll on the French Revolution, the life & times of Henry VIII, the Dickensian world of the Industrial Revolution, Shakespeare’s classics & their many versions …

but only of the events of the 20th century where there are thousands of films in almost all European languages and English, on the Holocaust.

They cover every imaginable point of view possible – the political, the geographical, historical, anecdotal.

Stories of children, adults, concentration camp guards, a commandant’s family living amidst the horror in an oasis of gentility, the Kapos, the Jewish prisoner functionaries…. all have found a voice on celluloid.

Even those that deny the Holocaust.

Similarly, the list of films and documentaries made on the assassination of President JF Kennedy is 17 pages long.

From every angle, be it his widow Jacqueline, to the assassin’s wife, Mrs. Harvey Oswald, to J Edgar Hoover, Head of FBI, Lyndon B Johnson, the president who succeeded him, eye witnesses, attending Texan politicians, citizens, reports of CIA, FBI, forensic discrepancies, deep Mafia connections, defecting Russian spies…the versions go on & on, all piecing together a jigsaw puzzle that still leaves so many unexplained, disjointed ends.

To a lesser extent assassinations of his brother Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King have also been explored by cinema in much detail.

We however have been presented a fait accompli when it comes to the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi.

Birla House

Prayer meeting

Gandhi accompanied by his two nieces

Nathuram Godse appears, shoots him point blank three times in the chest

Gandhi collapses with his last words, Hai Ram!

Godse gives himself up without much ado….

Most details are basic and sketchy at best, except for the assassin’s political ideology of which there is no uncertainty and has been rammed down us, through generations.

Does anyone remember more than two films which covered the assassination? One being of course, Attenborough’s Gandhi …

It was only last year when I read a brilliant thread on Twitter by Loose Bull on the unexplained events and subsequent actions of 30th January 1948 did I for the first time try and comprehend the enormity of what we Indians have absolutely no idea of.

In a first of its genre the subject of Prime Minister Shastri’s mysterious death was covered by Vivek Agnihotri in Tashkent Files.

Now looking back, it is indeed strange that successive governments didn’t find it necessary to investigate the unexplained death of a Prime Minister on foreign soil and we people over decades made do with rumours, gossip or simply and shamefully forgot him.

One might disagree with the presentation of a creative work, the quality of cinematography but one cannot take away the fact that for the first time via popular art, Agnihotri opened up a Pandora’s box of questions, opinions on history, politics, foreign affairs and intrigue.

There were many reactions to the film, positive and negative but the strangest was ~ What was the need? What was his motive? ~

A Prime Minister of this country died in Russia after signing a treaty with Pakistan who we had been at war with and we don’t want to know how and why …!!

By now there should have been several films on the subject, some gripping documentaries, with an array of opinions for us to think about, accept and reject.

But then we are also a country with no commendable body of work on celluloid of our historical personalities.

It seems we are happiest with that.

Don’t rock the boat.

Maintain status quo.

What has been fed to us, is what we are satisfied with.

Why question just in case something uncomfortable turns up?

The Out Of Syllabus Syndrome has been our worst nightmare since childhood and we are unable to face it even in our adulthood.

Is that why there is this panic in certain quarters when periods in our history are delved into anew? Old theories questioned.

Leave it.

Why get it into now?

Exam de diya. Pass ho gye. Abh kya?

An inexplicable fear of unlearning what we know, of who we thought we were.

Whatever you might say, for the first time in the history of Indian cinema thanks to platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime we are seeing a quality of filmmaking that has been rarely seen before.

Yes, some of us can see that agenda, that unnecessary twist to perpetuate, maintain stereotypes and status quo.

But instead of wanting to shut down these voices we must encourage others to come forth with their stories and films.

Till we see, hear, experience and enjoy multiple opinions we will not be able to discuss, debate with nuance and maturity.

Our TV Prime-Time panels are a good example of how we are not able to accept any other opinion but ours.

For too long there has been but one accepted School Of Thought and that has to be countered logically, reasonably, with facts and the art of storytelling.

So, bring on more films, bring on more documentaries & let’s talk Out Of Syllabus.

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